It is interesting to read the reactions to Disgrace and particularly to its two main characters David Lurie and his daughter Lucy. Most readers seem to have a very poor opinion of Lurie and even those who do not overtly dislike him appear to agree that he is self-obsessed and/or some kind of sexual deviant. Surely it is closer to the truth to say that he is among the most genuinely realistic middle-aged male characters ever created. He is admittedly driven by some selfish instincts but is that not true of all people? Is Lurie not in fact a more admirable person because he understands himself, his desires and impulses? To criticise him is to criticise human-kind, well maybe man-kind and that is perhaps why some people find him so uncomfortable to read. His attitudes towards women form one of the novel's central tensions, the age-old struggle between the sexes. He is not unkind or unpleasant to the women in his life, quite the reverse usually, but he does, to an extent objectify and pursue them, like many men. Coetzee does not try to tell us whether this is right or wrong he simply presents it as fact and gives us the opportunity to think about it, to compare it with our own lives and to try to make sense of it.
In exactly the same way he invites us to consider Lucy's attitude as a white South African woman towards her black male attackers. To some people, including her father, her attitude is inexplicable. Instead of hating and seeking revenge she accepts the offence as some kind of inevitable consequence of the years of apartheid and simply refuses to even criticise her assailants. In complete contrast to her father's instinctive id driven life, she deeply feels the collective sins of her race and is anxious to atone for them. As uncomfortable and frustrating as this may be, given the crime she has experienced, she is as 'true' to herself in her way as her father is in his.
Coetzee's prose is masterful throughout and is matched by his ability to draw his reader into the complex lives of these people in this muddled and deeply damaged country. Disgrace is not an easy read and it does not offer any easy solutions, but it is extremely well constructed, deeply moving and constantly engaging.